[Special] ‘Korea will be short of doctors even with more medical school admissions’ – Korea Biomedical Review

The nation is likely to be short of physicians until 2067 even if the government increases the annual quota of medical school admissions by 1,500 from 2021, a study showed.

The study assumed that the current supply and demand of physicians remain at a desirable level. The university entrance quota is now set at 3,058 students for medical schools.

Professor Hong Yun-chul of Seoul National University College of Medicine released the Research on the Optimal Level of Physicians Manpower at a round-table meeting, which celebrates the 28th anniversary of The Korean Doctors Weekly on Friday. The meeting was broadcast live on a YouTube channel K-Healthlog, operated by The Korean Doctors Weekly.

Hong led the study, which was commissioned by the Korean Hospital Association.

According to government statistics, Korea had 2.3 clinicians per 1,000 people as of 2017, which was the lowest among OECD members. The OECD average is 3.4 clinicians per 1,000 people.

On the other hand, a Korean patient went to see doctors 16.6 times a year, which was the most among OECD members. The average number of hospitalization was 18.5 days in Korea, the second-longest in OECD.

Korean doctors amount of labor is 3.37 times larger than the OECD average, according to Hong.

Hong predicted the number of outpatients and hospitalizations based on Statistics Korea's population data. He forecasted that the demand for outpatient care would peak in 2043, which will be 1.24 times higher than the current level. The demand for hospitalization is expected to peak in 2059, which will be 2.56 times larger than it is today.

Assuming that the supply and demand of physicians in 2018 were appropriate and increasing the quota for medical school admissions from 2021 will fail to prevent a shortage of doctors until 2067, the study showed.

If doctors retirement age is assumed to be 70 years old and the medical school admission quota is maintained at 3,058, the nation will be short of 55,260 doctors, Hong went on to say.

Even if the government expands the university quota by 1,500 from 2021, Korea will be short of up to 27,755 doctors in 2048.

Pushing up the retirement age at 75 years old and assuming the elderly doctors aged 65 or more have 50 percent productivity, an increase of medical university quota by 1,000 will still fail to prevent a shortage of physicians until 2067. Hong went on to say.

Hong emphasized that the country needs to address the imbalance of physician supplies among regions rather than the shortage of overall doctors.

In 2045, the total number of physicians will fall short of the demand, but those in Seoul will be in oversupply, he said.

In 2020, 15 percent of the total population will be aged 65 or more. In 2030, the proportion goes up to 25 percent, Hong said. This means not only the elderly population but their diseases will increase. It is highly likely that the medical demand will surge.

However, it is still controversial whether Korea is short of doctors because the nation is suffering from a severe imbalance of physician supply among regions, Hong noted.

Without addressing the regional imbalance, it is difficult to relieve the shortage of physicians, he added.


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